Santa Ynez Valley News: Gillian Nielsen named 2019 Solvang Danish Days Maid, becomes first Nielsen in her family to hold title

Anna Ferguson-Sparks, Contributing Writer | Jun 25, 2019

Gillian Nielsen, 2019 Danish Maid - Solvang Danish Days festival

Gillian Nielsen is named 2019 Danish Maid. {Photo Credit: Mike Mesikep}

The Solvang Danish Days Foundation has named Solvang resident Gillian Nielsen as its 2019 Danish Maid. She will preside over the 83rd annual Solvang Danish Days heritage festival, which returns with a three-day weekend event, slated for Sept. 20 through 22.

Gillian admits that ever since she was a girl, she has looked up to the Danish Maid as a celebrity. “I’ve been waiting until I was old enough to be considered for the role,” she explained, adding that being the first Danish Days Maid to represent her father’s side of the family, bearing the name ‘Nielsen,’ is a point of pride that she can add to those ancestors before her. “Being Danish Maid is such an honor for me because I have the pleasure of serving on behalf of our beautiful city of Solvang and the historical Danish Days celebrations.”

Since 1936, when a one-day celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of Solvang’s 1911 founding was conceived, Danish Days has evolved into a weekend-long festival showcasing the town’s Danish roots, with authentic food, music, dancing, parades, live entertainment and family activities.

The 2019 Solvang Danish Days theme — “A Salute to Denmark’s Flag: Celebrating 800 Years of Dannebrog” — will showcase the nation’s 800-year-old flag, “Dannebrog,” which is reportedly the world’s oldest national flag.

Four generations proud

Gillian says her parents, Chris and Diane Nielsen, along with her older twin brothers Ben and Kyle Nielsen, moved to Solvang in 2006 after her father retired from the U.S. Marines as a lieutenant colonel. Her father is a Solvang native, making Gillian a fourth-generation Santa Ynez Valley resident.

Her family’s path to Solvang began in 1898 when her great-great-great-grandfather, a lumberman by the name of Andrew Johnson, left a small village in Sweden for the U.S., in search of a better life for his family. In 1953, Andrew’s great-granddaughter, Marion Hanson, met Gillian’s grandfather, Alton Nielsen, in Solvang.

Alton was the second son of Danish immigrant C.V. Nielsen, a carpenter who arrived in Solvang in 1917, and Anna Roth, whose family had moved to Solvang from Ferndale in 1911. In 1920, C.V. and Roth were married in Solvang and had three children, Daryl, Alton and Thora Mae.

C.V. founded the family business, Solvang’s Nielsen Building Materials, in 1932 which Alton, his older brother Daryl, and C.V. continued to build. As time went on, Daryl and Alton were joined by Thora’s husband, Andy Andersen, whose son, Gillian’s father’s cousin, Ken Andersen, would eventually become Nielsen Building Materials’ manager, a position which Ken proudly continues to hold.

Gillian’s father and grandparents participated in decades’ worth of Danish Days, she explained. “Danish Days has been an annual tradition for my family, since we returned to Solvang in 2006. Whether it’s been passing out jam in the breakfast line, cooking æbleskiver with my parents, or holding the ‘Velkommen’ sign in the Danish Days parade, I’ve loved every moment,” Gillian said.

Gillian’s long-standing family history with Danish Days also includes the appointment of her second cousins, sisters Emma and Mia Andersen, as the 2013 and 2015 Danish Maids. Her father’s first cousin, Donna Andersen Ineman, also served as Danish Maid in 1981.

Gillian’s Danish Maid dress, custom-made and hand-sewn like many before hers by Solvang resident Roberta Skidmore, incorporates the colors from both the Danish and Swedish flags, paying tribute to the heritage on both sides of her family and in line with this year’s Danish Days theme that celebrates the Danish national flag.

Now age 17, Gillian will start her senior year at Santa Ynez Valley Union High this fall. She enjoys traveling and learning about different cultures, music and art, and the outdoors. Gillian’s post-graduation plans include studies at Boise State in communications and sales. She also hopes to enlist in the Marine Corps. as an officer, following in the footsteps of her father, with an eventual goal of entering the public relations realm.

“Serving as this year’s Danish Maid will actually give me a glimpse into the tourism PR and marketing world, as I act as a sort of ambassador for the city of Solvang, our Danish history and culture, and all that the thousands upon thousands of people who visit annually, come to discover in my hometown of California’s ‘Little Denmark’,” Gillian said.

Danish Maid schedule

Leading up to the 2019 Danish Days weekend, Gillian will sell raffle tickets each week at the Solvang Farmers Market for a chance to win a trip to Denmark.

The Danish Maid will also appear at events for the Danish Brotherhood, the Danish Sisterhood, the Vikings and at Valley Rotary Club meetings, to talk about the upcoming Danish Days events.

Gillian is available to speak about Danish Days for other local boards or committees, or for public appearances.

For further Danish Maid appearance details and availability, contact Brenda Anderson at brendaA [at] rplmanagement [dot] com.

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